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Walt Disney's Mary Poppins

by Maria Plymouth

Whom among us doesn't know that magical movie by Walt Disney, Mary Poppins?

Disney has made Mary Poppins famous for us all with their magical musical movie.  Where did he get this fantastic story from though? 

Mary Poppins was originally a series of children's books written by P. L. Travers and originally illustrated by Mary Shepard, about a magical English nanny, Mary Poppins.  The East wind blows her to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London to the Banks' house where she cares for the Banks children.  The children have more magical adventures with their strict, cross but magical Mary Poppins than they ever dreamed possible! 

Originally Mary Poppins always arrives in the beginning of a book and leaves in the end, or "pops-out" in the English tongue.  However, from the fourth of eight books onwards the books are about previously unrecorded adventures and Mary Poppins is already there.   As P.L. Travers explains in her introduction to Mary Poppins in the Park, "She cannot forever arrive and depart."

P.L. Travers have been writing Mary Poppins books starting with the first one in 1934 and the 8th one was published in 1988. 

Her first book contained a chapter in which Mary Poppins and the children use a compass to visit various places in the world and meet cultures and people including stereotypes of Chinese, Inuit, Africans, and Native Americans.  In later times this was critisized as not being "politically correct" so Travers changed them in 1981 to animal representatives of those cultures instead of people, and original illustrator Mary Shepard altered the accompanying drawing of the compass to show a Polar Bear at the north, a Macaw at the south, a Panda at the east, and a Dolphin at the west. 

As early as 1938, Walt Disney tried to buy film rights to the story from P.L. Travers, but she didn't trust that a movie would do her story justice, and Walt Disney was known for making animation films and she didn't want to see a cartoon based on her creation.  Patient Walt Disney finally succeeded in getting the rights in 1961, but Travers did demand script approval rights. 

Preparation for the film including composing the songs took about two years.  Those timeless songs were written by the Sherman Brothers, who wrote and developed more than 30 songs at various stages of the film's development (but obviously not all could fit into the film and some were rejected).  Mary Poppins is portrayed by Julie Andrews, with Dick Van Dyke as Bert. The Banks children (only two children in this film version instead of five) were played by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber, and their parents Mr. and Mrs. Banks were played by David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns.  This movie, released in 1964 includes adventures from all over the Mary Poppins books that were in existence at the time, and some that Disney and his associates created themselves.   It was directed by Robert Stevenson. 

The film is seen as a musical, although Disney himself said that they were not necessarily trying to create a musical per sé, but rather just a film into which they added songs where appropriate, as Disney had been doing as his movie style.

Mary Poppins' character as portrayed by Andrews in the film is somewhat less vain and more sympathetic toward the children than the rather cold and intimidating nanny of the original book. Bert, as played by Van Dyke, was a composite of several characters from Travers' stories.

Julie Andrews won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Mary Poppins and the movie also won Oscars for Best Film Editing, Original Music Score, Best Song for "Chim Chim Cher-ee" and Best Visual Effects, and received a total of 13 nominations. 

Mary Poppins was number one at the box office in 1965, earning a net profit of $28,500,000.

In 2004, Disney Theatrical produced a stage musical adaptation in the West End theatre. The stage musical was transferred to Broadway in 2006. It's been highly successful, just like the 1964 Disney film. 

It's been almost 50 years since the Mary Poppins movie has been released, and it appears to be truly timeless as it is still with us and we love it!


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